If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
MAMET’S CONTROVERSIAL “RACE” AT THEATERWORKS
“Race is the most incendiary topic in America,” the slick white lawyer tells us in David Mamet’s latest play, “Race”, currently on stage at TheaterWorks in Hartford.The play is also being advertized as “the most controversial of our era." That may be a bit of hyperbole, however, especially with “The Book of Mormon” and “The Mother - With A Hat” presently on Broadway.
David Mamet is, of course, the celebrated author of such modern classics as “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross." He is a master of urban poetry while pushing hot-topic buttons like feminism (“Oleanna”) or politics (“November”). In “Race” Mamet explores the title topic as two lawyers - one black, one white - find themselves defending a wealthy white executive charged with raping a black woman. The law firm also includes a female legal assistant (shades of “Speed the Plow”) who is African-American and who immediately assumes the new client is guilty. Power plays and disagreements escalate between all three legal professionals until the client almost becomes an afterthought.
Mr. Mamet knows how to write terse and often profane dialogue so that “Race”, in a tight 90 minutes with no intermission, builds suspense fully to a climax that nearly almost works. At TheaterWorks I don’t know why it doesn’t, but it might have something to do with the casting which is raw and terrific at times, docile and reticent at others. As in the theatre’s previous production of “God of Carnage”, director Tazewell Thompson allows his cast to shout rather than speak many of their lines. It dims the potential.
The key role of the female assistant isn’t given much kick or passion by Taneisha Duggan and, as a result, the play wobbles whenever it is in her hands. The men fare better and this could be because Mamet is primarily a man’s writer. R. Ward Duffy and Avery Glymph are persuasive and endlessly interesting as the conflicted lawyers even when Thompson’s repetitive direction has them encircle the set’s center table more times than I could count. Jack Koenig also registers as the client who may or may not be guilty of the ugly crime. It’s unfortunate the play doesn’t give him more to do.
Some law books would have enhanced Donald Eastman’s otherwise sleek, modern setting and costumer Harry Nadal has provided beautifully tailored power suits for the lawyers. There’s still that great Mamet dialogue to savor here and you won’t be bored -- even when you ultimately expect more of a punch from this most provocative of writers.
“Race” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through July 10. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.